Evaluating Soft Skills Must be a Priority for Hiring in 2020

Does the most talented coder in your pipeline really have what it takes to be a successful part of your team?


The economy is, to say the least, in a state of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it doesn’t mean that hiring has stopped. Depending on the industries you develop solutions for, you may be expanding your staff to innovate or meet growing demands. How you choose your new employees, however, may be different in light of the current circumstances

HireVue CTO Loren Larsen, comments that you may want to spend more time evaluating soft skills. Larsen provides answers to some common questions and shares his insights and advice for software developers who want to make the right hires in 2020:

Do software developers tend to hire based on tech skills alone rather than also evaluating soft skills?

Larsen: Soft skills are often overlooked when hiring software developers. The root of the problem is in how hiring managers interview candidates. While it’s easier for teams to hire developers based on coding talent and hard skills alone, part of what makes a successful hire is ensuring that they will be able to communicate and collaborate well across teams.

What are soft skills?

According to The Balance Careers, soft skills relate to how you work. Soft skills include interpersonal (people) skills, communication skills, listening skills, time management, and empathy, among others.

Hiring managers typically look for job candidates with soft skills because they make someone more successful in the workplace. Someone can be excellent with technical, job-specific skills, but if they can’t manage their time or work within a team, they may not be successful in the workplace.

Many organizations fail to seek out the right attributes, which can lead to retention or culture fit problems later down the line. In fact, HireVue commissioned a research report which found that two in five people are being hired into roles which they later discover they do not have the right soft skills for – and over half of respondents (53 percent) left companies because their personality or work style didn’t fit.

Are soft skills especially important now that employees may work from home?

Larsen: Remote work has brought new challenges when it comes to juggling work-life balance, productivity and finding the motivation to continue producing quality work. Some soft skills, like self-motivation, self-management and work ethic, are even more critical now that today’s global work from home experiment continues to extend. When not in a traditional office setting, it can be easy to get sidetracked by new home distractions. Having the ability to work independently and manage yourself without heavy direction from a manager or supervisor goes a long way when working remotely.

Additional soft skills like conscientiousness and adaptability can be key as well. Everyone is working through difficult times — whether you’re a parent now trying to juggle childcare and homeschooling on top of your day-job, or finding it difficult to work in isolation away from coworkers for an extended period.

How can a software developer assess a candidate most effectively?

Larsen: There are numerous things hiring managers can do to evaluate soft skills:

  • Ask consistent questions. It’s easy to focus on one part of a candidate’s answer, such as what their favorite programming language might be. Answers to questions like that aren’t really predictive of how well a candidate will do at that job but can lead to selecting or rejecting a candidate based on that because you spent most of the interview discussing it (and also being influenced by whether you agree with them on their favorite language). The other candidates may have been evaluated on something completely different, which leads to fairly random results in hiring.
  • To assess for soft skills via situational questions and how they handled them. Some examples might be about challenging projects they completed or how they worked through a feature with the product owner on their team.  The classic format for these questions is called STAR (Situation, Task Action, Result).  So, “Tell me about a time when you had a big project that you were responsible for completing. What was your role?  What did you do and how did it turn out?”

The answers to these questions will really help you understand how the person approaches situations, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and by asking consistent questions, you will be able to compare candidates more effectively.

  • Allow candidates to show themselves at their best. Ask questions such as, “Tell me about a time when you completed a project that you are proud of.” This lets them shine and lets you understand what matters to them, where they show initiative and creativity or if they are just following orders. Both can be fine, but it depends on what you are looking for.
  • Get structure and consistency into your process is using structured interview questions and comparing candidate answers to each at the same time. This can be a great way to home in on how candidates manage themselves, which is crucial to get a temperature check on given today’s all-remote landscape. For example, asking questions about how a candidate would make sure a task would get done can shed insight into a candidate’s work ethic and whether or not they are dependable and results-driven.

How can hiring managers evaluate specific soft skills during an interview?

Larsen: You can learn more about a candidate’s specific soft skills by looking for the following traits:

  • Self-motivation/individual learning: single-parent employees, working across time zones, track record meeting deadlines, and ability to produce quality work.
  • Conscientiousness: Commitment to excellence, ability to work independently at home.
  • Work ethic: Self-management, comfort with transparency, willingness to adapt schedules to get the job done.
  • Independence: Individual or team-oriented working style.
  • Adaptability: Openness to new experiences, ability to work whenever or wherever.

If software companies don’t build a team with necessary soft skills, what outcomes can they expect?

Larsen: Not having these soft skills can be disastrous, because coding is really only half the package. If a candidate doesn’t understand the requirements and doesn’t ask for clarification, they will spend time building the wrong things. If they don’t communicate with team members clearly about what they are doing, they may replicate work or have coworkers work on the wrong things. If they don’t communicate well with QA tests may be written incorrectly, or they may ship features that don’t actually work.

Of course, all of these things can happen if people aren’t conscientious, as well. If people don’t communicate expectations to team members about what they can and can’t do and by when teamwork will suffer, and deadlines will be missed.  A coding test doesn’t really tell you much about any of this.  Many of these issues are amplified when working remotely, and as teams are still figuring out how to work through and thrive, missing collaboration with their team members.

Jay McCall

Jay McCall is an editor and journalist with 20 years of writing experience for B2B IT solution providers. Jay is a cofounder of Managed Services Journal and DevPro Journal.

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Jay McCall

Jay McCall is an editor and journalist with 20 years of writing experience for B2B IT solution providers. Jay is a cofounder of Managed Services Journal and DevPro Journal.